Working at a nightclubs I met a lot of people; famous, infamous, and nobodies. Sometimes I had no idea who was who. One night at Hurrah I tried to stop Mick Jagger from entering Hurrah. The singer of the Rolling Stones was wearing a beard. His bodyguard Tony steered me right.
At the Mudd Club Steve Mass had called down from his apartment. The quirky owner had seen Meryl Strep at the ropes on his CCTV and instructed me over the intercom, “Don’t let her in?”
“Why not?” The blonde actress had won an Oscar for KRAMER VS. KRAMER in 1979.
“I hated THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN.”
“Me too.” Especially her scene where she turns her head on the quai.
“Sorry, but you can’t come in.”
“Don’t you know who I am?”
“Yes, but tonight’s not your night.” I didn’t have to say why.
Doorman had that power in the 70s. We ruled the night and that privilege continued with my move to Paris in 1982.
“Here you are not a doorman, but a physionomiste.” The manager of the Rex was a socialist. He wanted an eclectic crowd based on fun.
“No, problem, but I don’t know how to speak French.” Two years of grammar school French from a nun with a lisp had taught me how to ask, “Ou est le Bibliotechque?”
“Pas de problem,” Olivier shrugged with ease. He wanted someone not so French and said, “You only have to say two words. ‘Ouais’ or ‘non.”
“Okay” I had learned that trick at CBGBs, Hurrah, and Studio 54. “But I don’t know anyone in Paris. Not the famous people. Not the people who go to nightclubs.”
“Bien.” His partner and he were tired of everyone getting in for free. “Make them pay. I don’t care if it’s Brigitte Bardot.”
“But how shall I treat them?”
“Like shit?” I didn’t think that I had heard him right.
“Comme le merde.” His accent was perfect and I said, “I’ll do my best.”
Treating Parisians like shit was a dream job for an American and I followed his orders to the tee, except I treated my favorites with glory and I built a new clientele of rockers, punks, models, gangsters, pop stars, and just normal people too. For the most part the owners liked the mix and I was well-known as ‘le ras-de-ped’ or ‘homo’. It was verlaine for pederast. My French was getting good and the owners of Les Bains-Douches hired me to replace of Farida. The Algerian Amazon was leaving her post to pursue a career in modeling with Claude Montana. She was that beautiful.
The owners were a little more concerned about their clientele, who were more upscale than the Rex, but I still treated their regulars ‘comme le merde’. It was a tradition. I also liked to throw in a curve ball and one night a decrepit clouchard approached the entrance to the club.
The bouncers moved to prevent the derelict’s climbing the stairs.
“Stop.” I had a plan.
My security were off-duty Legionnaires, who followed orders.
“Why do you want to enter the club?” I asked the grizzled drunk in Boston-accented French.
“Because I’m a good friend of Moses. He told me to meet him here.”
“Come on in.”
“Are you serious?” This line mustn’t have ever worked before this evening.
“Mais ouais.” I had heard plenty of excuses from people seeking to enter the Bains-Douches. None of them were as good as this ‘friend of Moses’.
“I have no money.” The clouchard patted his pockets.
“A friend of Moses doesn’t need money. Here are two drink tickets. Have a good time.”
His raison d’etre granted him entry to the elite boite de nuit. I went inside from time to time to check that he was having a good time. The clientele of the Bains-Douches opened their hearts to the Friend of Moses. He wasn’t one of them. They liked different. I considered him harmless, until my boss stormed up to the front door.
“Are you fou?” Americans were crazy estrangers to the French.
“What’s wrong?” I didn’t have an idea what, but I was sure about the ‘who’.
“That clouchard drank a bottle of wine from Thierry Mugler’s table.” My boss had a sweet spot for the fashion czars of Paris.
“Really?” I thought they were a little full of themselves and laughed at the situation.
“You think it’s funny.” He mustn’t have been a Jerry Lewis fan.
“Just a little. I’ll show him out.”
“Why did you let him in?”
“Because he’s a friend of Moses.” The excuse wasn’t so funny to the patron, but he had never seen Charlton Heston part the Red Sea in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. I know it was special effects, but the real thing must have been very impressive. The god of the Israelis knew how to kill their enemies with unforgettable style.
I signaled the bouncers or ‘videurs’ escort the clouchard and he cried out, “You can’t treat the friend of Moses like this. Just wait till I talk to Moses. He has more plagues up his sleeves than I have fleas.”
Nothing as bad as the killing of the first born ever visited the Bains-Douches and I spotted the friend of Moses in the nearby environs hectoring passers-by about the Twenty-Seven Commandments. I wish that I could remember his ‘thou shalt nots’, except I’m lucky if I can repeat Moses’ original top ten.
He cursed everyone with damnation at the very popular Cafe Pere Tranquille. The junkie and drunks laughed at his predictions of doom. I looked to the sky. The madman pointed a finger at me. “That Amerlot loves God.”
And I wish it were true, but I had been a non-believer since 1960, still I gave him 20 francs. It’s not a bad idea to have the friend of Moses saying good to the Grand Seigneur even if the drunk is completely mad, for while their Lord moves in strange ways, so do the mad and this episode led to my being let go at the Bains-Douches.
I wasn’t unemployed for long.
Albert and Serge opened a dance club near the Paris Opera 1985 and offered me the doorman job. Le Reve’s plush décor harkened back to the glorious 50s. The young rich loved the mix of soul and classic French hits stitched together by Albert’s world hits.
They hired a young black bouncer to handle the voyous. Jacques had run with several gangs from the outer suburbs. A two-year stint in prison had not ruined his smile. The young girls from the good neighborhoods thought the muscular Martiniquean handsome and came in droves to try their luck.
These beauties in turn attracted men who brought them drinks. A glass of champagne cost $20 and Le Reve coined money.
My job was filter out the uncool.
A week after the opening an older man entered with two dowdy women in fluffy down coats. One of the blondes might have been attractive in her youth, but she was letting herself go. Her blonde hair was streaked with gray and she wore no make-up to mask her age. Her unfashionable clothing dated back to the early 70s and her feet were clad in tennis shoes.
I figured the old man for a boxer. His nose was splayed across his upper lip like a wet sox. An argument ensued with the cashier about the cover charge.
“What seems to be the problem?” I asked the cashier. She was very strict with the guest list.
“They don’t want to pay.”
“We never pay.” The fighter scowled at the cashier without acknowledging me. His damaged pride revealed that he had been someone once.
“Excusez-moi, mssr. Give one reason you don’t have to pay and you can come in for free.” Any excuse would work, even that he was a cousin of Moses.
“We never pay,” the ex-middleweight rasped in a punished voice. He had won more fight than he had lost, but not by much.
“That’s not a reason.”
“I do not have to give a reason to un putain Amerlot.”
“Fucking American.” The insult was rewarded with an immediate response. “Jacques, escort this old man out of the club and have him take the two old pallisons with him too.”
It was the word in French for doormat. The connotation was not good. My French was getting better every year, but puzzlement muddied Jacques’ face and the fiftyish blonde woman glared with contempt. Her eyes were dazzling blue sapphires. They belonged to a younger woman once. One who would have ignored me as beneath her.
The three of them left without further argument and my boss approached to the door.
“Explain to me why you threw out Brigitte Bardot,” Serge demanded with blase curiosity.
“Brigitte Bardot>” The boxer’s companion re-assembled into the legendary sex symbol as would any woman who was Brigitte Bardot. AND GOD CREATE WOMAN and CONTEMPT were two of my favorite films of all time. I had dreamed about her as a boy. “That’s wasn’t her?”
“Ouais, c’est elle.”
“Merde.” I ran out to say they could come in, except they had already reached the boulevard. A taxi stopped for the trio and I returned to nightclub expecting a lecture, instead Serge suggest that I act with more tact in the future.
“We will be old one day too.”
The story of her rejection hit the morning papers and I expected the Paris Police to institute deportation proceedings for having insulted a national treasure, however the passage of time had rendered the animal lover’s beauty passé to today’s youth and our business doubled with their appreciation of my indiscretion.
A week later Mickey Rourke showed up at the club with ten friends. Mostly young junkies from the Bains-Douches. We never let them in for free. I made an exception this time and Serge came up to me.
“No Brigitte Bardot, but hello Mssr. Rourke.” He never let me forget this error in judgment and it remains a joke between us till this day, even more so now that the American actor slipped down the ranks from his heyday, although we both agreed on his best line.
“Drinks for my friends.” Mickey Rourke called out in the same voice from Barbet Schroeder’s BARFLY.
It seemed to be a line he must have said in real life more than once.
“A guy like me changes hard, I didn’t want to change, but I had to change.”
Same as the rest of us.
We all get old some day.
Je suis con, which is not a nice word in French.